AngelTrax, which partnered with Harford County Public Schools, provides an all-in-one automated stop arm violation system to deter illegal passing.  -  Source: Canva/AngelTrax

AngelTrax, which partnered with Harford County Public Schools, provides an all-in-one automated stop arm violation system to deter illegal passing.

Source: Canva/AngelTrax

About five years ago, Harford County Public Schools in Maryland wanted solutions for a growing problem: motorists’ apparent disregard for school buses, which threatened student safety.

The district’s transportation director, Cathy Bendis, collaborated with local law enforcement and concluded that HCPS should look to AngelTrax – already a partner for internal school bus cameras – to pilot an external safety program.

“Feedback from our drivers led us to realize that we had a significant safety concern with the motoring public,” Bendis said.

A Pilot Focused on Student Passenger Safety

AngelTrax is a designer, manufacturer, and provider of in-vehicle mobile surveillance for several industries, from school buses to trains to waste management. The company reports that it has more than 250,000 active systems operating around the world – about half of those in the United States.

Harford County embarked on the new journey with the company during the 2022-2023 school year, and then fully integrated the technology into their entire fleet this school year.

The company partnered with HCPS with its Child Safety Program, an all-in-one automated stop arm violation system that aims to deter dangerous (not to mention illegal) school bus passing. The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services (NASDPTS) conducts an annual survey of stop-arm violations and has estimated millions of such violations in a single year. AngelTrax reports that 98% of stop-arm violators who get tickets never do it again.

For this project:

  • An automated camera captures an image of the vehicle passing the bus.
  • That video evidence is verified.
  • The violation is confirmed by law enforcement.
  • Notification of the violation is printed and mailed.
  • The violator then is expected to pay their fine.

And how did it work in Harford County?

“We believe there is an awareness level that has been increased with the public and we hope to see a continued pattern of improvement,” Bendis said. “This technology also allows for reports on specific days, times, and locations of repeat offenders. This reporting allows for local law enforcement to deploy officers efficiently to support the work of the cameras.”

She also gave credit to Sheriff Jeff Gahler’s office, which reviews pending violations each day and keeps a standing time and date for the court to hear appeals.

“Without Sheriff Gahler’s support, this program would not have been possible,” she said.

Integrating Camera Equipment into the School Fleet

The new external video system proved a rather painless upgrade, given Harford County’s previous installations of interior cameras, Bendis said.

“They also allow for the transportation department or administration to review camera footage quickly for any interior camera requests to address student discipline quickly,” she said. “It has been a seamless transition.”

The installation includes:

  • 2 megapixel violation-detection camera mounted at roof line.
  • Dual 5 MP cameras in a single case, mounted near stop arm.

AngelTrax provides equipment, installation, and maintenance of the system, as well as educational materials and court forms.

Training toward Bus Safety Awareness

The road to success for this system, Bendis said, started with making sure school bus drivers could make a correct bus stop.

“We spent time reviewing that with our over 700 certified bus staff,” she said. The training included Traffic Sergeant Jerry Eaton, who could answer questions from the drivers.

“The other critical piece to a successful program is an awareness campaign for the public,” Bendis said. “We are fortunate to have such a supportive community and partnership with all those who support keeping our students safe each and every day.”

Measuring Success with School Bus Stop-Arm Violators 

The school district aims to measure success through continued reductions in illegal-passing incidents.

“We are hoping to see trends over the next several years that will show a decrease in the total violations,” Bendis said. “Unlike ‘speed cameras,’ the bus stops can change year to year based on ridership, so we hope to see a reduction by 5% each year. Once we have a full year of data, we will review the trends and continue to work with law enforcement for officer deployment.”

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